Today: YouTube and Google Plus Host Pertinent Drug War Debate

This afternoon, I will be live-tweeting Google + Hangouts and YouTube's first "Versus," installment, "It's Time to End the War on Drugs."

The first of a new series whereby celebrities and otherwise prominent officials debate global issues, the Drug War debate airs on YouTube at 3pm EST today, and will include Wikileaker Julian Assange, Virgin mogul Richard Branson, actor Russell Brand, "and experts such as the former Presidents from Mexico and Brazil, among others."

 Accidental or not, this week's topic comes with impeccable timing.  As Latin American leaders are increasingly calling for legalization, the United States is standing firmly grounded in its refusal to abandon or reform draconian drug laws. Visiting Latin American leaders last week, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. will not be changing its drug policy, but recognized that legalization is a "legitimate" concern for debate. Just one week earlier, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she would not agree with the assertion that the Drug War is a failure. 

But while the U.S. stays dedicated to prohibition, Latin American leaders are increasingly calling to reform drug laws. President of Guatemala Perez Molina recently announced that he will propose legalization to regional leaders at the April 14-15 Summit of the Americas, and sent Vice President Roxana Baldetti, on a tour of the region to garner support and open up the discussion. 

The prevalence of the debate among international leaders is historic: As Jeffrey Dhywood wrote on AlterNet:

President Perez Molina’s initiative is unprecedented and marks the first time since the launching of the War on Drugs by Richard Nixon in 1971 that a foreign head of state actively challenges the US-led policies of drug prohibition and try to build a coalition against it. 

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director and founder of the Drug Policy Alliance,adds:

Calls for drug policy reform are proliferating rapidly in Mexico. Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox, pulls no punches in saying that legalization is the best approach. Fox's predecessor, Ernesto Zedillo, joined with former Brazilian president Cardoso and former Colombian president Cesar Gaviria in organizing first a Latin American and then a Global Commission on Drug Policy, both of which called for major reform of drug policies, including legal regulation of marijuana, and also for "breaking the taboo" on considering all drug policy options, including legal regulation.

Now business leaders in Monterrey and Mexico City, wary of the growing power of criminal organizations, are joining the debate with sophistication, resources and support for legalization in one form or another. And, from the left, Javier Sicilia, the influential poet turned social justice movement leader, is saying much the same. 

Nadelmann also said, however, that the U.S. government's attempts to suppress the debate present obstacles in the way of conversation:

The immediate political challenge will be to sustain this momentum in the face of vigorous behind-the-scenes efforts by the U.S. government to suppress the debate, notwithstanding public statements that they're open to it. The more substantive challenge will be to flesh out proposals for alternative strategies. Presidents Santos, Otto Perez Molina and others know full well that no nation can unilaterally legalize drugs, that any significant changes in direction must be pursued multilaterally, and that major reform of the failed global drug prohibition regime of the 20th century will take years and likely decades. Governments as well as non-governmental organizations in the region are just beginning to look seriously at alternative drug policy options, enlisting scholars and other policy experts.

This afternoon, the debate will happen live on YouTube, and will continue all over the world, so long as prohibition continues.

To keep up with the debate, follow me on Twitter @KristenGwynne

Watch it here

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at March 13, 2012, 6:53am